Politicians’ fathers and spouses – fair game?

There’s always a debate as to the extent that politicians’ family should be fair game for media coverage. There seems to be a general consensus that their children should be off-limits. Mind you, that didn’t stop Caroline Spelman’s 17-year-old son being pitched into the national limelight recently. (However, in that case there appear to be justifiable reasons for coverage).

Over the last week, we have seen a number of stories concerning UK politicians’ fathers and wives (or, more correctly, wife).

The Guardian led last week with a story about David Cameron late father’s financial arrangements. Yesterday, the Telegraph ‘exposed’ George Osborne’s father for having expensive tastes in desks, amongst other things.

Miriam González Durántez, who is married to Nick Clegg, is in the news for, in the words of the Telegraph, being “hired by Kraft, the US food conglomerate, three weeks before Nick Clegg called its takeover of Cadbury “just plain wrong” “.

Open question: To what extent are politicians’ responsible for their father’s and spouses’ actions? Should David Cameron be criticised because of the financial machinations of his father decades ago? Should George Osborne be criticised for his father’s taste in desks? Should Nick Clegg be accused, in some quarters, of “hypocrisy” because his wife works for clients which Nick Clegg has criticised?

My feeling is that there are justified areas of jounalistic enquiry here. But I think editors need to be cautious as to the extent to which they “hype” these stories. For example, I do not think that the Guardian was justified in making the financial actions of David Cameron’s father (some of which must have been carried out while David Cameron was, presumably, a child or teenager) a splash, top article, front page story.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Coverage of Cameron and Osborne’s fathers was wrong, Spelman’s son is fine, he was cheating at sport and taking illegal drugs, the coverage of Miriam González Durántez is also entirely correct. After all, it does compromise Clegg to have his wife undermining his fine words.

  • Richard Swales 23rd Apr '12 - 1:59pm

    I would be more worried if he’d said nothing and then it had come out she was working for him. The fact he said something shows the conflict of interest is only potential, not actual.

  • Both comments above on Miriam Gonzalez Durantez seem to me to miss the mark. She is a lawyer and the fundamental obligation of a lawyer is to represent their client regardless of whether politicians or others might find their actions distasteful.

    So, the article was completely unjustifiable as it has been in the past when lawyers who have defended, for example, drug dealers have been accused of being “soft on drugs” if they stand for election. With all the lawyers in Parliament, you would have thought by now that the press would recognise that they should not be criticised for carrying out their professional duties….

  • MarkG, regardless of that, and she is under no obligation to take the work, it still represents a conflict of interest for Clegg, and that is newsworthy.

  • I did not realise all politicians had wives or were men – can you insert some gender balance in the title and open question asked?

  • toryboysnevergrowup 23rd Apr '12 - 2:15pm

    Mark G – absolutely correct, but that point never seemed to be at issue when many, not including a few LibDems, were taking cheap shots at Cherie Booth QC.

    One would think that this is an entirely new phenomenom and that it never happened to the relatives of Labour politicians or of celebrities etc. What is needed is a properly thought out privacy law not knee jerk reactions.

  • Toryboysnevergrowup make s a fair point about how Liberal Democrats took a pop on some occasions most unfairly towards Cheerie Booth QC.

    Difficult thing to accept for a Lib Dem, but true.

  • I seem to remember Blair’s wife getting the same treatment for her action as a barrister, but one could argue that she courted publicity. I’m not interested in the earnings of any politicians spouse unless they have gained from their partners position. That did not happen in this case so therefore the story regarding Clegg’s wife is just not newsworthy.

    Clegg, when discussing internships, stated that he had an unfair advantage and that he wanted to open the system up to more young people. In doing so avoided any hypocrisy (although was still accused of it in some quarters). Cameron could have done the same, he could have said that his families previous avoidance of tax by using offshore vehicles was wrong if not against the rules. He chose not to and had benefited from this practice. To me that makes him a hypocrite and fair game for the story in question. Most of us do not get to avoid tax and don’t like to get lectures on “all being in it together” from those who inherited a substantial sum from those that did.

    Osbourne is a different issue again as his father did not need to give the interview. If give that sort of detail out when when your son holds high office then you open the door to the type of follow up that has happened.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 23rd Apr '12 - 3:27pm

    Of course I include Cherie Booth. And I don’t remember the Lib Dems attacking her. Daily Mail – yes.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 23rd Apr '12 - 3:30pm

    Henry – done. Only gender limited because I was talking about coverage over the last week.

  • Sorry not much sympathy for the politicians here – they use family when it gives them an advantage and should expect to have it used against them when not.

    It has happened to a ll parties – I thought Jacqui Smith was unlucky as what was clearly an error (and not ‘fraud’ on the same scale as David Laws) but I am afraid that is what the media is like in this country and unless we change the rules on media ownership/freedom to express then we live with the current laws that are biased towards the rich and powerful in terms of libel.

    The background of Cameron’s father is relevant because it is how the money to put Cameron in the PM chair was earned. His father who he professed to idolize gained money from playing with money – enough to pay for his education and also put him in a position to gain his pre-PM employment

    The same for Osborne

    This information should not alone make up people’s minds but it is relevant and why should it be hidden? We know John Major’s background was complex but I doubt many people used it as a reason for not voting for him in 97

  • In reply to g – it only represents a conflict to someone who does not understand conflicts of interest. Miriam worked for Kraft before Nick’s comments (and no doubt afterwards). The only person who should have any interest in the topic is Kraft – clearly, they didn’t think that Nick having a go at them affected the ability of their lawyer to represent them.

    P.S. I also can’t remember Lib Dems taking a pop at Cherie Blair on this basis but, if so, I agree that was wrong as well. I do remember some comments playing on how uncomfortable it must be for the government to have Cherie Booth arguing against them so frequently. It is also insulting to both Cherie and Miriam to somehow assume that they should not take on cases in their professional capacity if it in some way conflicts with the actions of their husbands as politicians.

  • MarkG,

    I understand conflicts of interest perfectly well, and Nick had one because he was expressing an opinion, it doesn’t matter if positive or negative, on a company that employed his wife, Miriam, and contributed to his household income, and thus, imply some degree of self interest in any opinion he has on the company. It’s a minor conflict of interest, and there was no attempt to hide it, so it’s really nothing to get worked up about, it’s public domain and the public can judge if it’s affected Nick’s opinions and no evidence suggests it has.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Apr '12 - 7:58pm

    I wonder what people would have thought if Nick Clegg had called Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury “perfectly ok”. There would surely have been a suspicion that Miriam González Durántez’s being “hired” by Kraft might have affected his opinion.

  • Paul McKeown 23rd Apr '12 - 11:04pm

    @Mark G – spot on, you have absolutely nailed it.
    @Tory Boys – again, sport on. This country needs a privacy law to determine what is responsible journalism and what is simply knicker sniffing.

    I would also like to say that of all the leaders of the big three national parties, Nick Clegg genuinely impresses me. Not for his communication, which has been poor, but for his fortitude and courage. Faced with the torrent of abuse that he has suffered for nigh on two years, a lesser man would have broken. He appeared quite withdrawn for a long time, but he now seems to have had the fight back for quite some time. I seriously question whether Cameron or Miliband could cope under such stress.

  • Richard Dean – it wouldn’t have affected my view at all. There is no financial interest in whether Nick is nice or nasty to Kraft.

    It is absolutely no different to a politician saying that all drug dealers should be locked up whilst his/her spouse is busy trying to keep them out of prison. Potentially a bit embarrassing for the lawyer but that is as far as it goes.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Apr '12 - 11:22pm

    MarkG – The analogy is with a poltician arguing that drugs are ok while his/her spouse is receiving income from a pusher.

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